CBN, Drew Parkhill's take on Y2K : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


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January 12, 2000

Y2K: What Happened? Why Have Things Gone So Well?

A few thoughts on the positive unfolding of Y2K, and why the best-case scenario came to pass, as opposed to realistic worse or worst-scenarios...

First, embedded systems turned out not to be the problem once thought they would, or could, be. This was hinted at in late 1998, but not really confirmed until 1999. These systems were the ones which could have caused the most problems in electric power, manufacturing, and so on. The fact that they weren't the threat once feared significantly reduced Y2K's potential impact, as Senator Robert Bennett noted at the Washington DC Year 2000 Group meeting in April of 1999. Consequently, it really shouldn't have been a particular surprise when the embeddeds didn't cause major problems at the rollover.

Second, in my opinion at least, time was probably not the difficulty software experts originally envisioned it to be. I suspect more got done in less time than they thought could happen, in part because no one really had good methods of measurement for Y2K remediation projects. Time was widely considered the greatest enemy of sofware remediation; but that determination was based on methods of measurement from software projects of the past, and may not have applied to Y2K remediation. In addition, apparently there are studies demonstrating that when management pays closer attention (or even appears to), worker productivity climbs- another factor allowing for higher Y2K accomplishments, given the extreme attention management frequently paid to this particular project. So, this "time," (sorry-couldn't resist), to paraphrase the dreaded Wall Street statement, it really may have been different. (Incidentally, if you combine these first two points, along with the third, plus the fact that more was reportedly spent internationally than commonly believed, you have a pretty good idea why there haven't been more "obvious" international failures.)

Third, many if not most organizations which started off with the belief that they were behind, focused on the potential public or visible Y2K impacts, and made sure those got fixed. If the average person (ie, voters, consumers, stockholders) didn't see the problem, then obviously he or she wasn't going to worry about it.

That last point logically leads into another one: are Y2K failures happening which are not "visible" or "public?" Remember that virtually all analysts said only a relatively small percentage of the failures would happen at the rollover itself (Gartner Group projected 10 percent would happen in the first week of January, for instance), with the rest being spread out over the course of 2000 into early 2001. I would guess that only a small percentage, perhaps as low one to two percent, of errors are being reported. Of course, most of those going unreported are the type which don't deserve reporting anyway- but some may be more than that (and I would guess certainly are). A few of these type may affect businesses to the point where they suffer earnings shortfalls (and thus, potentially, hits in their stock price), but at this point it doesn't seem likely that the total accumulation of these failures will be sufficient to throw the economy into an outright recession.

Of course, there could have been other factors as well. One could be dubbed the "Jonah Effect," ie, by proclaiming the problem you prevent it (ABC's Peter Jennings mentioned this possibility on New Year's Eve- that since there had been much in the media about it, people took action). In the case of Ed Yardeni, at least, there is no doubt a whale of a lot of truth to this, as Business Week has properly pointed out. (Get it? Jonah? "Whale" of a lot of truth? Heh heh heh :).

In addition, many people have suggested the role of prayer and divine grace, and who am I to argue with these views? Nobody ever wanted a negative Y2K scenario to come to pass (at least, I hope not). Virtually everyone who actually understood the problem and was working on mitigating it encouraged others to do the same. In the end, the serious problems that could have occurred were averted, and who can't be happy about that?

Drew Parkhill

-- tt (, January 13, 2000

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